Friday, October 28, 2022
In late August, ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros wrote a guest post calling for essay submissions describing different law schools’ academic support programs.
As described before, the purpose of this project is to assemble a number of those descriptions to demonstrate the many ways law schools can commit to their students’ success by investing genuinely and substantially in a robust academic support program. A Short Series of Blogs. He noted that future contributions to this project would include guest posts by Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern) and Louis Schulze (FIU), and he invited others to contribute towards a larger piece. Those interested in contributing to the project should send a draft to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, Louis Schulze’s description essay can be found HERE.
Monday, October 24, 2022
Here are some reasons why this is, in fact, the scariest time of year for all the folks haunting the hall at a Law School:
- Bar results- have come out (or are coming out soon). Sigh. It is usually a roller coaster of: “wow, I am so happy for you,” followed by a dip into, “let’s get organized for February….” For some ASP folks, this is an annual employment evaluation. I have written about how unfair this is in the past. It is still terrifying.
- Midterms -both the elections and the exams. This is likely the first exam our students will encounter and it will blow them away regardless of the warning and advice we have given them. The exams will be, despite our spoilers about them, truly unexpected. Like the elections, I guess we need to wait and see where the blame will fall on those…
- The loss of focus/motivation- first year students have forgotten why they wanted to be lawyers and have hit a wall in terms of their ability to focus on the material or the light at the end of this tunnel.
- The loss of sunlight- I did remind myself in late June to relish the days where the sun seemed to set after 9:00 p.m., and then, of course, didn’t. I miss it now though-and the darkness early in the morning doesn’t help either. Also, this is going to get worse before it gets better. And colder. And snowy….(if you are from a place where the cold/wet/snow thing does not happen, you may sit there smugly, but I don’t want to hear about it.)
- The way time speeds up- Thanksgiving is in a month. A month. How was the month of September over 3 years long and October is just a blink?
- Bugs- COVID, flu, malaise, colds. My personal favorite is when a maskless student comes right up to me before, during, or after class and tells me they are not feeling well. If I could back up and disappear into the whiteboard, or even scale the walls like Spiderman, I would….
- Mental Health- see numbers 3, 4 (ok, all of them) above as contributing factors. This is the time of year when already existing (and new) symptoms of mental health ailments surface. No one currently in law school has had a smooth course of education over the past years, and a return to normal-ish processes is a lot for everyone, but we should be taking strong precautions to preserve mental health similar to the way we protect ourselves from item 6 above.
- Everything everywhere all at once- (not the movie) see items 1-7 above and add: commuting, family stuff, over-extension (I see you my ASP friends), exhaustion, grading, etc. etc. etc.
I’d love to say that candy is our salvation here, but alas my primary care physician says that is not true. But what does she know-she’s only a doctor…
Thursday, September 8, 2022
"Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn't. Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won't re-route," writes attorney Mike Kerrigan in a story about "A Sweet Lesson From Pie," WSJ (Sep. 8, 2022).
I suspect that is true of most of us. But why? In my own case, my stubborn mind clings to the facts as I know them because, to admit that facts have changed and a new course of "navigation" is required is in someways to admit that I'm a human being, frail in more ways that I wish to admit.
I think that is especially a challenge in legal education and for bar exam authorities. We cling to the past because that's all we know and, to be frank, sometimes all we want to know.
Take legal education. We know that learning requires much from our students and from us. But many of our classes go on despite the new facts that have emerged from the learning sciences. Louis N. Jr. Schulze, Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230 (2019)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960192
Take the bar exam. The best available data suggests that there is a dearth of evidence to support a relationship between bar exam scores and competency to practice law. Yet we cling to the past. Putting the Bar Exam on Constitutional Notice: Cut Scores, Race & Ethnicity, and the Public Good (August 31, 2022). Forthcoming, Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4205899
I've made lots of wrong turns in my career, my work, and in my life. To keep on going in the wrong way gets me no closer to where I should be going. So let's give ourselves and each other the freedom to be changed, the freedom to travel a new path, the freedom to, in short, be curious, creative, and courageous about our work in legal education, on the bar exam, and in life in general. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, September 1, 2022
I sometimes look through SSRN for articles from the past to help me better see the present and what might work best for the future for our students. That being said, I am often troubled in pursuing past research because so little action has tended to take place in consequence of the revelation that people shared so publicly and wisely with us in the past. I think that's true in academic support and bar passage. A not-so-long-ago article from 2004 makes the point, I think. Day, Christian C., Law Schools Can Defeat Our Bar Pass Problem - Do the Work!. California Western Law Review, Vol. 40, p. 321, 2004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=563923
In brief, Prof. Day's thesis is that it's largely up to us, as legal educators, to think, strategize, organize, and implement educational experiences that best help our students enter the professor as attorneys. And, if I may add, I think it is up to see as legal educators to challenge the status quo story about the bar exam as a neutral non-biased arbiter of competency to practice law.
First, let me start with Prof. Day's suggestions as to how law school educators might better tackle bar issues (and I quote):
- The dean and the faculty should lead the battle.
- Recognize and support students who learn differently.
- Recognize that the law does not come easily for most. Professors must teach students to see what professors may have seen almost intuitively.
- Law schools can prepare students for the bar by teaching them the law.
- Law schools should encourage students to take "bar courses" for a grade and be prepared to counsel them if their work is poor in these courses.
- Law professors should concentrate on creating relevant essay exams and not create multiple choice questions too prepare students for the bar.
- Law schools should identify and assist students who come to law school with bad study habits learned in hight school an d college.
- Law schools must produce better legal writers by improving essay exam writing.
- Law schools must give students better feedback regarding their performance.
- Law schools should stress the importance of the bar exam to students.
- Law schools should advise students to get their financial and personal lives in order to pass the bar.
- Law schools should counsel graduates who failed the bar and offer recommendations to improve their chances.
- Law schools should keep detailed statistics to pinpoint students at risk.
- Law schools must "bit the bullet" with their retention policies.
- Law schools should create and maintain strong academic support offices.
- Law schools can offer special, non-credit, bar prep courses.
- Law schools should limit or phase-out take-home and open-book exams.
- Schools might consider grading on the curve.
- Law schools should crate more small sections in basic courses.
- Law schools may have to reduce some of their offerings in order to make certain their students are grasping the basis.
- Schools should eliminate "Pass/Fail" grades except in the most limited circumstances.
- Last, but not the least reinstate and enforce attendance policies. Id.
I'm sure that there's not agreement as to all of these suggestions; they are, after all, just suggestions. But from the high altitude view it seems to me that Prof. Day challenges us as legal educators to take seriously our role in training students for holding licenses as legal practitioners. That's a high calling.
Second, as legal educators, I believe that we have an obligation to understand, analyze, and to improve the educational experiences of our students and to challenge the status quo. I'm sort of a radical, as some of my prior writing might suggestion. https://papers.ssrn.com/ When authorities make claims, I doubt. That's why I appreciated a very recent article challenging the story that the bar exam is a neutral instrument. DeVito, Scott and Hample, Kelsey and Lain, Erin, Examining the Bar Exam: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Bias in the Uniform Bar Examination (January 26, 2022). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4018386
I'll let you dig into the details but pay particular attention to the appendix because that's a particularly glaring spotlight on the lack of transparency about the relationship between the bar exam and race & ethnicity. In brief, the appendix surveys publicly available data from 56 jurisdictions (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the 5 territories) and only one jurisdiction routinely provides data regarding bar exam results and race. That state is California. That seems revealing to me. It's as though there's no problem because we don't report a problem. Yet, the thrust of the article, convincingly to me, is that the authors took the time to put in the "elbow grease" to analyze the limited data available and what they learned is not good at all. Take a close read at that article. It too is well worth your time.
All in all, these two articles, among many others, suggest that we ought not be silent. That we have obligations to question, to speak up, to debate, to analyze, to understand, and to advocate. In short, we have a high calling as academic support professions. A very high calling indeed. And one in which all of our voices are needed. (Scott Johns, Denver Law).
Monday, August 15, 2022
Welcome back to the Law School Academic Support Blog! I hope you have had (or are still having) a wonderful summer. I feel like the waves of fall are starting to crash on my shore at this time of year, but it is, like the ocean, also familiar and soothing.
There is this great catchy tune, “Bang!,” that one of my kids introduced me to by a band called AJR. It sounds very ‘80’s which is probably why it appeals to me so much-but my absolute favorite part of it is that they had the guy who does the NYC Subway announcements do some voice work in it-and that, to me, sounds like home. No, he doesn’t say, “stand clear of the closing doors,” but his voice is utterly unmistakable when he says, “here we go.”
As we gear up for another fall (I can hear it approaching like a train into the station), we should remember that our voice as Academic Support professionals is unique in the law school setting. We may be the first voice students hear as they begin their journey, or a voice they hear when they are struggling later, or, hopefully, the voice on the stage cheering the loudest when they graduate. They will also hear us when they are studying for, taking, passing, or re-taking bar. Some students will never even know we were here-and that’s fine-but not due to any lack of trying to be seen and heard on our part. We are, in short, the center of the known universe for law students in it for the long haul with each new class that comes our way.
After a summer of blissful academic productivity-eh, who am I kidding? After a summer of having more downtime and slightly fewer students, I am printing out academic calendars, migrating materials on BlackBoard, and updating syllabi. I have found a great pending U.S. Supreme Court case that will be argued in October for my undergraduates to concentrate on for our final assessment (it has pictures, and Prince!!). I guess I am ready… -ish.
I know I feel both the dread and the excitement of a new academic year coming at me. I’ll miss the flexible schedule-and my ratty everyday sandals-tremendously, but I am also excited to meet new students and get into the rhythm of the school year. So, let’s be sure to end our summers with a bang and get ready for what’s coming.
To quote Bang!,
“So put your best face on, everybody
Pretend you know this song
Everybody come hang
Let's go out with a bang
Bang! Bang! Bang!
(Here we go)”
And, as always, stand clear of the closing doors.
 He also says the word “metronome,” but that is inconvenient for this blog post.
 Which we seem to be abandoning shortly, most likely because I have finally mastered it.
 Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 11 F.4th 26 (2nd Cir. 2021). So much for my joke that the F.3d was a pop-up version-I suppose we have moved on to smell?
Thursday, June 2, 2022
"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022).
In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control. Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.
I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience. However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed." Id. And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?
It's an interesting question. But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis. So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful. That's hard work but that's our job.
As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying. So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022). Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article: "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices." Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now.
That's an incentive that I can buy in to. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Did you know that the collective noun for a group of magicians is an “illusion?” I believe that Academic Support Professionals are the magicians of law school academics, not because we engage in sorcery, but because we do so much hard work behind the scenes that it seems like things just happen.
Last week, I was lucky to be able to share the tricks of the trade (with the best community of colleagues ever!) at the 9th Annual AASE Conference at the lovely St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and on Zoom! I already knew that ASP folks are the hardest-working, kindest, and most generous people. I was also aware that we are supreme innovators. In short, the brain power in the sessions at our conference could have provided enough energy for the entire state of Texas. And it would have been a clean, renewable source of power!
It was amazing to be in the company of people who truly understand the work—and the flip side of doing so much important work often without having job security or recognition. I know that I am extremely fortunate that my law school is supportive and offers long-term contracts with options for more security, as well as funding for scholarship and conferences. Yet, academic support and bar prep are often seen as—oh wait, actually, we are often not seen at all…
At a faculty meeting last week, after what I consider a big win that added a DEI course graduation requirement, we moved on to an agenda item that tangentially dealt with tenure policy. During this discussion, a tenured, doctrinal faculty member referred to people who had our (ASP and other non-tenure track) faculty status as “faculty with a small f.” As in, essentially, lower case “f” faculty should very clearly not be allowed to vote on tenure policy changes. Yes, I had a big F reaction to that. That was more than just rain on my parade, it was a full-on blizzard: cold and windy. Following my glorious moment in the sun, I was returned to my cubby crumpled and dirty like a kindergartener’s lunchbox after recess.
It is moments like this that make a national conference of all the law school thaumaturges even more imperative for the survival of our profession. We need to work together to collectively ask that the curtain be pulled back so that our doctrinal colleagues can see the work that is often going on out of their sight. There is no magic in what we do, just a lot of hard work that should be transparently visible.
A huge thank you to Afton Cavanaugh and the team at St. Mary’s for solving the huge logistical puzzle that this hybrid conference must have presented!! It was glorious and I am truly enriched by the endless magnificence of this community. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10th annual AASE conference at Santa Clara Law.
And finally, did you know that the collective noun for a group of doctrinal professors is known as a “pomposity?”
 Texas is huge! I knew it was big before, but I really had not understood it until I was there.
 A presumptively renewable contract-but not tenure.
 I was the leader on this effort, and I am crazy excited that it really happened!
 Silently-but I am originally from the Bronx. I’ll just leave it at that.
 Those who don’t already know-there are always going to be allies in every school!!
 May 23-25, 2023-save the dates!
Monday, May 9, 2022
Two out of my three children are “adults.” One lives on her own in another city, one comes home for college breaks, and the third is a junior in high school. People ask me how I feel about having an empty nest in a year or so, and I tell them this: I am not done parenting, we are just moving into a new phase. I field texts about how to do laundry, or whether to purchase a t-shirt, or even with pictures of dogs in New York that look like our dog here in Massachusetts. I get a lot of cooking and baking questions. There is still a lot of parenting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance). This is where we are with our students after they cross the stage at Commencement.
I love the way graduation is titled in a way that suggests both an ending and a beginning. For our students, it is the end of law school and the beginning of their life….as bar applicants. And hopefully, after that, the beginning of their life as licensed lawyers. While we will all wear our uncomfortable garb and silly hats later this month (or maybe you already have?) to celebrate our students’ achievements thus far, it isn’t the end of the relationship we will have with them.
For our colleagues who are engaged in bar prep, very late July will be when the nest is temporarily empty. The rest of us are hopeful that students will still e-mail, ask for recommendations, or even stop by-although there has been less stopping by lately because of the pandemic. There is still a lot of supporting happening, it is just different (and sometimes long-distance).
So, for anyone feeling like their law school nest is empty, you will be happy to know that there are approximately 105 days until orientation (that is just one more day than Phineas and Ferb got for their summer vacation). And then we commence once again...
Monday, March 21, 2022
And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:
- Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
- Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
- Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
- Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here: http://www.cunylawreview.org/category/blog/
- Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
- Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
- Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.
I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.
Monday, March 14, 2022
I was so excited to get to this Spring Break. I need this break. I feel like I have not taken a deep breath since mid-January. This semester has been cold and snowy and relentless. My shoulders are currently hovering at ear level. And, I have a million little aspirations for this break: baking, learning to crochet, enjoying daylight, not teaching at night, etc. But here I am at noon on day one thinking about catching up on grading and reading the rough draft an independent-study student sent me this past Saturday night. Sigh. I am also contemplating laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out closets. When did I forget how to relax and do nothing?
Ironically, I offered my high school junior the chance to take a mental health day this week. I used to let his sisters do this once every quarter in high school-they didn’t always use it the chance, but it was there if they wanted it. With advance warning, they could just take a day off-I’d call school to excuse the absence and we would have a day of yes. You want to go to IHOP? Yes. You want to see the ocean? Yes. You want to learn the choreography to “We’re All in This together” from High School Musical? Yes, just let me close the shutters if you want me to join you. This week, my son has two big tests on Tuesday and an orthodontist appointment on Wednesday at a time that makes it awkward to go to school before and strange to go after, so I offered him the rest of the day. Everyone needs to unload their burdens every now and then.
In academic support, we tend to worry about everyone but ourselves. I see you nodding. If you are on spring break this week, please let the sun warm your face every day and only do those things that give you joy (and keep your family alive). Relish the time that is normally spoken for by other responsibilities. And then email me with exactly how you did it. I’m going to need some major help developing a spring break plan…
 I can’t even with the timing on this one.
 You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M
Monday, January 17, 2022
On this (very rainy in Massachusetts) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we as law educators need to remember that every fight for civil rights was only a fight because there were lawyers on the side of denying civil rights. The people advocating for denying rights were trained lawyers who had been to law school (or the equivalent in some states) and were admitted to the bar to practice law. They had been taught basically the same subjects we teach students today. As we educate this new generation of lawyers, we need to be sure to remind them that lawyers, above all, should seek justice (which is not the same as law) and truth (again, not the same as law). Law is just a tool we can use to walk these paths.
Martin Luther King noted that, “[t]he function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Nelson Mandela added that, “[e]ducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The same way a construction worker, a surgeon, or a Jedi knight would be carefully trained to use equipment safely, we need to make sure our students know the consequences of unsafely operating the tools we are giving them -- as much as they know how to use the power.
As we start our new semester tomorrow, and while I am still reeling about the events in a Texas Synagogue this weekend, I renew my vow to engage in true education. Lawyers have an almost sacred relationship with truth and justice that should not be dismissed or forsaken. We need to teach our children well that, “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963).
Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Boston Common in 1965-also in the rain.
Monday, December 13, 2021
Last Friday’s NECASP Conference on Fostering and Maintaining Inclusive Communities was amazing. It was well organized and carefully curated. I left with some amazing ideas of how I can make my ASP welcome mat larger and make students who cross that threshold feel that we are a caring community. Community=success! A special thank you to the NECASP executive team: Amy Vaughan-Thomas, Brittany Raposa, Phil Kaplan and Danielle Kocal for a wonderful conference. I have often said, and I stand by it, that the ASP community is the kindest community in law school academics: to our students, our schools, and to each other. The sheer talent and intellect of my colleagues is breathtaking.
This morning I walked my dog, Leo, super early because we were escorting my son to before school physical therapy (he hurt his arm when he and his bicycle encountered a curb back in the summer and wrestling practice made it hurt more). My husband is also away on business in (what looks like heavenly) Portugal and he had previously been doing this walk. I will add that I also spent the night with this dog who would not go downstairs, takes up as much space as a human (he weighs 40 pounds, so that was surprising), and doesn’t smell as wonderful as you would hope. The ultimate chutzpah was when he barked at me to pick him up and put him on the bed because he is too short. And judging from the sentence before that, you can imagine how much resistance he got from me, and besides, the cats were unwilling to help. In any event, there I was: tired, cold, and entirely not in Lisbon when Leo and I saw this:
Leo and I continued on our walk under this cotton candy sky until we were almost home. As we passed the post office, we saw this bit of pink sharpied advice:
There is no greater ASP hook here except maybe we all need to be reminded to look around and make connections as we make our way through this season of grading and early darkness.
Monday, December 6, 2021
Last night was the eighth and final night of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or even Hannukah). This year we had two different types of candles for our two menorahs. We had one box of artisanal long and graceful white to blue ombre candles. We also had a standard 99¢ little blue box of shorter, more colorful candles from the supermarket (or maybe a leftover box that one of our three kids brought home from Sunday school). We lit both menorahs each night: one with the pretty candles and one with the garish little blue box candles. The pretty candles burned and melted. The plain candles did as well. The bottom line was this: it was meaningful regardless of which candles we used.
Here comes the (possibly heavy handed) link to law school exams. If students have an exam answer where they spotted the issues, used the correct the rule, did both sides of analysis, and weighed the options before concluding, then it is meaningful even if it isn’t graceful (or long). There are all sorts of other holiday analogies I could make here…like remember to go one at a time when lighting your candles; remember that you need to light the helper candle first (that being the student’s knowledge and wellbeing); do not re-spin your answer to multiple choice questions, and, of course, the miracle of being asked eight multiple choice questions about one thing you know really, really well. Surely, miracles and light are what many students are asking for this time of year.
It is also important to remember, though, that like any ritual, exams have their traditions and practices. We should be sure to remind students that after each exam, they should scrape off the remnants of the last one and reload with one more point of light before moving on to the next one. Make this a tradition. Lamenting over what went wrong on the last exam is always going create a barrier to going forward-and moving on to the next exam is part of the ritual. Remembering what went well (this year, none of our cats lit themselves on fire!) will be more productive. Make this a practice. Afterall, you cannot light fewer candles as Hanukkah progresses because you cannot travel through time (yet).
Finally, when exams are all over, students should be sure to clean up before putting their exam self away. No one wants to deal with a December mess in May. And for what it is worth, the fancy candles were a bear to clean up.
Happy Holidays to all!
Monday, November 29, 2021
Every summer, our family rents a (dog friendly) house out on Cape Cod. Recently, we have been renting bicycles when we get there at a bike rental place called Idle Times. It isn’t fancy, but it is friendly--the name is welcoming and seems to be assuring us that we need not race or even labor much to get around on the bicycles. It is the kind of place where an old black lab lies in the overgrown seagrass and seems to will the kids trying out bicycles to go around him rather than move from his shady spot. It is idyllic-no false advertising involved. This past weekend (that started on a Wednesday-shouldn’t they all?) was also gloriously idle (aside from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and latkes). I removed my laptop from the table (yes, the new one for those of you who have been following these posts) and didn’t return it to its spot until yesterday. And here I am on a Monday morning trying to jump start my professional brain after this lovely idleness.
Today is the last day of classes for us. While many might think that this is the beginning of a nice break for all academics, it is absolutely crunch time for ASP folks. There are students panicked about finals. They seem shocked that exams are almost upon us despite all the warning signs. I agree that by the time we develop our fall mojo, it is already Veteran’s Day-which was less than three weeks ago. Fall seems like a slow walk uphill to a sudden cliff, while spring semester seems like a cold, dark walk through a cave into the light.
Nonetheless, we are about to begin our "reading days." I’m not sure how much time between classes ending and exams beginning is just right; I don’t think there is a one size fits all time period, but our 1L students have around 2.5 days.
Here is (some of) what I advise students to do now and during these days and the exam period:
- Get out of the law school building (we are all in one building here). The air is thick with stress and every little whisper will make you think someone knows something you don’t about a class you are in. I point out to our students that we are (in the fall at least) out of sync with our undergraduate and business schools, so their libraries might be a better place to study if a library is your preferred spot. At least the din there won’t make you feel unnecessarily inadequate. In pre-COVID times I would also recommend a coffee place (away from school) or even my favorite, the café at the Museum of Fine Arts (excellent place to study and wonderful place to be when you need a break from it).
- Make an exam plan. Work backwards from your last exam and plan reasonable study schedules for each day. Remember to add a teaser of the exam after the immediate one into your plan-so if Civ. Pro is on Thursday, you can take an hour and review a little Crim because that is next and so on.
- Attend to your hygiene and health! Seriously, this is going to be a marathon, pace yourself and be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t take unnecessary pandemic risks right now. Showering is important even if the alternative can help with social distancing.
- Practice writing answers and doing multiple choice questions: while reading carefully will be an important part of your exams, you will still need to produce an answer. You should practice essays often enough that IRAC is a muscle memory. Do enough multiple-choice questions that you are not confused by slight changes in terminology (because…gasp…sometimes doctrinal professors do not write their own questions). Remember, a good way to be prepared for exams is to be a PERP: Prepared for class, Engaged in class, Reviewing after class and Practicing. Ok, now I can see why this didn’t catch on, PERP is just not going to happen. But there is still hope for fetch.
- Handle different subjects with different strategic approaches: Civil Procedure is linear and chronological; Contracts is transactional; Torts and Criminal law just beg for making a chart with all the people and causes of action involved and so on…
- Just get started: if you are lost on the exam, start with something you can answer to get the brain engaged and then go back. However, do not go back and change any multiple-choice answers if you have already made a choice-it will not end well.
- Get out again-after the exam, leave the building. Do not discuss it with other people. I know that talking about a shared trauma can be therapeutic, but this will not be. I promise. Think about what you have done well on this exam and then move on with your plan. As Timon famously says in The Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind you.”
- When all the exams are over, enjoy the idle time.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
I was honored and surprised and thrilled to find out that I was the recipient of the 2022 Trailblazer Award. I truly feel that I have the best job in the world, and part of that is because I get to be a member of the broader academic support community.
While I take pride in and ownership of my accomplishments, it also is not lost on me that they would be much more difficult for many other academic support professionals to achieve because of the inconsistency and inequity among how we are treated at our schools. I wanted to highlight the ways in which my institution – Suffolk University Law School (SULS) – has supported me, in the hopes it will encourage other law schools to do the same.
- Financial and logistical support for research and writing: SULS provides summer funding for professors who wish to take on scholarly projects, and they extend this funding to academic support professors. I’ve written four articles and have received funding for two of those. The funding is both a financial help, as well as – importantly - an incentive and a vote of confidence. I wasn’t sure that I would ever write an article, but getting funding made me feel like the school believed I could. In addition to the funding, the law school has an active and robust Scholarship Committee and does not require me to teach a full course load over the summer.
- Faculty status: I'm faculty and therefore involved in faculty committees and meetings, which allows me to form relationships with other faculty, get ideas, exchange ideas, and feel more invested in the school.
- Conference funding: SULS provides me with conference funding, which allows me to meet other academic support colleagues, build community, and gain skills.
- Long-term contracts: Those of us in the Academic Support Program have 1-, 3- and 5-year contracts, which allow us greater stability than others who face yearly renewal and review.
- Parental leave: I received maternity leave (it is sad that this even needs to be said, yet it does).
- A significant academic support program: There are four full-time academic support professors at Suffolk (names familiar to and beloved by anyone working in the field: Herb Ramy, Liz Stillman, Phil Kaplan, and Jen Ciarimboli). This is not only crucial because we have a very large student body, but also benefits me immensely because I have generous, wise, and hardworking colleagues with whom to exchange ideas and resources.
- Teaching opportunities: Finally, in recent years, SULS has allowed me to teach non-ASP classes like Professional Responsibility and Negotiation. Doing so has helped me gain experience and confidence, generated ideas for scholarship, provided me with additional pay, and helps students and faculty see that ASP professors are part of the broader curriculum.
Of course, we are not perfect at SULS. In short: I would love to have tenure. When I joined legal academia, tenure seemed primarily like a matter of ego to me. But now, I value it more. I’d like financial equity with my colleagues; to feel fully respected and valued; to have full academic freedom; and to be able to have a greater impact on my community through voting on matters of appointments and tenure. Perhaps this award will be a step towards these goals.
And perhaps I am sharing too much, being too transparent. I’ve come to learn that a certain amount of gamesmanship is expected in academia. But I believe part of the success of many of us in academic support is our authenticity and transparency.
If you are a tenured faculty member or administrator reading this - thank you, and I hope this has given you some ideas.
If you are academic support staff or faculty, please feel free to reach out if I can be of support - I know how much you do for students, how unquantifiable the majority of it is, and I believe in and value you.
 I don’t mean at all to prioritize faculty over staff, and I think staff should receive these benefits as well. I intend instead to acknowledge what I gain from being a faculty member.
 Another note: my title is not Associate Professor, but Associate Professor of Academic Support, and many wonderful scholars have noted the way that titles perpetuate hierarchy. See, e.g., Rachel Lopez, Unentitled: The Power of Designation in the Legal Academy, 73 Rutgers L. Rev. 923 (2021).
(Sarah Schendel - Guest Post, Associate Professor of Academic Support, Suffolk Law School)
Monday, November 15, 2021
Remember in Harry Potter when Professor Lupin praised Harry for not being afraid of Voldemort, but rather being afraid of fear itself? Don’t even get me started on the psychological symbolism of dementors if you do not have a few minutes hours days to discuss all the good and bad symbolism in the series. But there is something in that particular moment that resonates with me. At this time of year, when everyone thinks about what they are grateful for, I think I most grateful for gratefulness.
I have a friend who writes a blog that is entirely about gratitude. I love that it has been going on for 2054 days even though it started as a 30 day project. There was just too much to be thankful for in this world to be confined to one month. But in the Academic Support world, I think sometimes ASP faculty do not make the list for students, schools, or even as relevant enough to be considered in the U.S. News rankings. Our data on thankfulness is almost entirely anecdotal. So here is my list of what I am thankful for in Academic Support:
- The amazing academic writing produced by ASP people-wow, just wow,
- That this is most warm, generous, and kind assembly of colleagues in all the academic realm (seriously, I mean every seemingly over-the-top word here),
- Students who are essentially groupies. I love students who come by regularly without being asked or told to do so for all three or four years of law school,
- Not being the person who grades all the exams or papers-just helping with prep and other issues is highly liberating especially when you add the disclaimer, “of course, I am not grading this, so be sure to check with your [insert legal writing or doctrinal] professor also…,”
- Students who take my advice. I offer a lot of advice-some solicited and some not, but all well-meaning and with some evidence/experience/inside knowledge to back it up,
- When a plan comes together-it could be a study plan, a paper plan, a bar plan, or even a registration plan-when it works out for a student and they are successful, my heart grows three sizes (premature holiday reference, sorry).
- The beginning of the tenure conversation for ASP faculty. We may need a Patronus charm to get there, but we are in the room of requirement getting our wands ready for the battle.
There is more-there is always more. I am thankful for (among many other things) students who send me grading playlists, texts about successes from graduates, and being able to resume having an open-door policy this semester. But most of all, I am thankful for thankfulness. Gratitude is self-perpetuating.
 I am extremely lucky that my school has truly valued ASP work and faculty.
Monday, November 8, 2021
Today is International Tongue Twister Day (I am not making this up just for blog content, I promise). A tongue twister is defined as, “a word, phrase, or sentence difficult to articulate because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.”  I would submit that all the different roles we play in academic support are difficult to articulate as well.
Like many codified rules in the United States, the term “Academic Support” is vague. How can we define what we do? We help students access the curriculum in law school but that is still vague. We conduct orientation classes. We teach students how to prepare and study in their doctrinal classes. We help students prepare for midterm and final exams-and then the Bar exam. We help students with legal writing projects. We offer counseling that borders on therapy. We listen, we plan, we give feedback, we lend books and shoulders and pens. We offer candy and tissues and respite. We also learn from and help one another as professionals. I once helped a student pick out bridesmaid dresses. We are something different to every student we work with (a friend, a mentor, a nag, a chocolate supplier….).
Our support is seamless mainly because there is no clear beginning or end to what we do that can be stitched together. And, sometimes, what we do is both important and invisible. We are not quite the same as other faculty members in ways that are obvious and some that slip below the radar.
So, on this Monday of the week that Bar results will be released here in Massachusetts and other states nearby, I offer this tongue twister to remember what the folks in Academic Support do:
Academic Support professors profess to assist pre-professionals become professionals using practices that produce prosperity.
Say it 5 times fast and have a particularly pleasant day!
Monday, October 25, 2021
I was a social psychology major as an undergraduate and I remember studying the psychological theory of gestalt, which is defined as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.” Basically, if I had known about outlining back in those days, I would have written the rule as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As bar exam results trickle in from parts near and far, I think it worth revisiting this idea with both students and colleagues.
To students who have passed the bar, I would say, “Wonderful! Remember, there is more to you than this one credential. As an attorney, you will bring your whole self to the table and that will always be more than the sum of your parts.” To the students who have not passed the bar this time, I might say the same thing. I do not want to be dismissive of how meaningful this one credential is for them after a three (or four) year journey that has already been fraught with confidence crushing moments. I don’t want to toss out, “oh well, maybe next time” either because right now, I think these students may see “next time” as a craggy mountain to climb without any safety gear in truly inclement weather. I also know that social media means that students will know about their classmates’ successes almost immediately and silence will be interpreted as failure. Literally. There really is no good answer other than “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”
I also worry about my colleagues who have poured every ounce of what they have into students to help them pass the bar (regardless of whether the students were willing vessels or not) and now have someone else’s success or failure be determinative of their worth. Is this how we value professionals?
When a football team loses a game, media outlets tend to blame everyone on the team-not just the quarterback or coaches, but the team as a whole: offense, defense, big guys, little guys. Even when one player makes an egregious error, the sportscasters tend to find additional reasons for the loss-even the weather or altitude can be roped in. When the team wins, the press is similarly wide in praise, as seen here by today’s Boston Globe after the Patriots won a home game yesterday, “[e]veryone went home happy Sunday. Mac Jones got his first 300-yard game and hit a 46-yard deep ball. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards. Eleven players made a catch, and five different players got in the end zone. The defense created two interceptions…Smiles all around.” And remember, these guys probably each get paid more than all the ASP folks at a regional conference combined.
So, when bar results are good, ASP folks are part of the overall winning team with smiles all around. But when bar results are not what we are hoping for, why do our ASP colleagues not get the same level of camaraderie? Why aren’t we always a team at that moment also? ASP folks, and particularly those who do bar exclusively, need to be given the grace of gestalt. So I say to you, regardless of the bar results at your school, you are more than the sum of your parts. As an ASP professional, you bring your whole self to the table and you are mighty.
Judging someone’s competency or job security based on the performance of other people at a task that is not entirely knowable is something that is far above our pay grade.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Poet Robert Frost writes:
Monday, October 18, 2021
In the musical Hamilton, Eliza tries to persuade her husband, Alexander, to take a break, “Take a break…Run away with us for the summer. Let's go upstate…There's a lake I know…In a nearby park. I'd love to go.” Alexander refuses to go and, no spoilers beyond this, it doesn’t end well.
Two weeks ago, on the first Monday in October, I asked my undergraduates why this time of year was so important, and one student said, “It’s spooky season.” I was trying to get at the Supreme Court getting back to work (on what very well may a spooky season of cases), but it is also, as ASP folks know, that scary time of year when our 1Ls hit a wall. I’ve stockpiled candy (easy this time of year), tissues, and some advice.
We all know that 1Ls have a moment of crisis when they lose their altruism about helping the world with their law degree and become caught up in a smaller world of grades, midterms, legal writing assignments, outlining, and the overwhelmingness of just showing up for class. Students lose sight of why they even came to law school to begin with. Surely, masochism wasn’t the reason mentioned in their application personal statements. Sometimes, students need to be reminded of their initial reasons for being a lawyer. A gentle reminder might be enough for some students. It never hurts to tell them that no one really comes to law school to be a law student, they come to become a lawyer. Being a law student is temporary. And while it seems counterintuitive to advise taking a break, that is the advice I often give them at this point in the semester.
This may be a perfect time for a student to take a small break (hours, not days). Midterms are over, legal writing is less intense (for the moment) and they have been doing the reading, briefing, and outlining for long enough that it isn’t all consuming. Honestly, if Boston was a drag queen, this time of year would be its death drop in terms of the weather and natural beauty. Soon enough, everything will ramp up again and often with larger consequences, but at this very moment, a few hours spent away from law school is doable.
To that end, I have “prescribed” a drive to a beach town about 40 minutes north of here with saltwater taffy, a giant rocky sea wall that is both walkable and climbable, and just sitting at the edge of the ocean and getting perspective. Need something closer? Walk down to the aquarium, smell the ocean, and watch the harbor seals frolic in the outdoor (free!) exhibit. Even closer? Walk the Freedom Trail (it is right outside the doors to our law school). Really, anything can be a break; the only rules are no books, no laptop, and no regrets. Time spent rebuilding yourself is priming the pump for students (and faculty). The investment will pay off.
So be on the lookout for students hitting the wall. Be their Eliza. I would always prefer my students took a break than get broken.
 © Lin-Manuel Miranda